A few weeks ago, I was involved in a minor rear-end collision while backing out of a parking space in a commercial parking lot. I was parked in a diagonal space near the end of an aisle way, only a few feet from the main thoroughfare in front of the store. Before backing, I checked my mirrors and looked over both shoulders to ensure it was safe to reverse. The coast looked clear, so I started to back up. Within a few seconds, a sickening crunch and jolt told me that I’d hit something. I quickly looked behind me and sure enough, I saw the front bumper of a small SUV in my rearview mirror. He had apparently been in the process of turning left from the thoroughfare down the aisle way that I was backing into, and rear-ended me. Fortunately, the damage to both vehicles was very minor. The other driver was very nice and we exchanged information amicably. We did not discuss who was at fault, although I privately knew, given my claims adjusting experience, that I was probably at fault for backing without due caution, despite the fact that he rear-ended me.

As I thought about the incident more, however, I became less certain of exactly whose fault the accident had been. Sure, I’d been moving in reverse and hadn’t seen the other car prior to impact, but he had been turning left, and therefore also had a duty to exercise due caution. If the other car had been fully established in the aisle way, there would be no question that I was 100% at fault. In this case, however, both vehicles were performing actions (moving in reverse and turning left) that required them to exercise due caution and yield the right-of-way to cars already in the roadway they were entering. At the end of the day, given the exceptionally minor damage, I decided not to worry about it too much.

The incident did make me reflect on how insurance companies determine who’s at fault for an accident and how the determination is not set in stone. A good adjuster will obtain statements from all parties involved, review satellite imagery of the scene, and review a copy of the police report (if one is available) before making a final decision. Even in the seemingly most obvious cases, like rear-end collisions, it’s essential for them to go through each of these steps to ensure that nothing has been missed. The reason for this is simple: the traffic law is written from the perspective of what an average person could reasonably expect to happen while they’re driving.

Traffic slowing in front of you on the highway is something that every driver can reasonably expect, as are other cars driving down the aisle way behind you in a parking lot. If, on the other hand, Car A in front of you stops suddenly and unexpectedly at a green light for no apparent reason, are you still 100% at fault for the rear-end collision? If you’re backing from a parking a space and Car A comes speeding down the aisle way behind you in the wrong direction, hitting your rear bumper as you back from your space, are you still principally at fault for backing without due cautions? If you are stopped at a light and Car A in front of you backs up and hits the front of your car, apparently a rear-end collision, are you responsible? The simple answer is no. The proximate cause of these accidents was Car A’s reckless and unexpected behavior, which a reasonable person could not be expected to anticipate.

While it is true that a vast majority of rear-end accidents turn out to be the rear car’s fault, the scenarios I just mentioned illustrate that this is not always the case. There is no black and white law in Colorado that says that if you rear end someone, you’re automatically at fault. C.R.S. 42-4-1008 states that “The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.” Again, notice the words “reasonable and prudent.” The law is written according to what you can reasonably to happen with the car in front of you.

When a case involving a rear-end collision goes to trial, the jury is instructed that the law presumes that the driver of the rear vehicle was negligent in the collision. But in Huntoon v. TCI Cablevision of Colo., Inc., the Colorado Supreme Court discussed that the driver of the rear vehicle can counter that presumption if there is sufficient evidence to show that they were not negligent despite a rear-end collision occurring.

Only a careful investigation in which the conduct of both drivers is reviewed can determine who’s really at fault for an accident, even a rear-end collision. While the consequences of determining who’s at fault for a minor parking lot collision are minimal, they can be much more severe when injuries are involved. If you’ve been injured in an accident and the other driver’s insurance has denied your claim, contact a lawyer you can trust to investigate the matter. Things may not be as black and white as the adjuster would have you believe and only an experienced attorney can tell you if you’re being treated fairly.

By: David Law